Anglian high cross in the churchyard of St Helen's Church
- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
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This copy shows the entry on 23-Jul-2019 at 06:30:13.
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Broxtowe (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
- SK 48898 37351
Reasons for Designation
High crosses, frequently heavily decorated, were erected in a variety of
locations in the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries AD. They are found
throughout northern England with a few examples further south. Surviving
examples are of carved stone but it is known that decorated timber crosses
were also used for similar purposes and some stone crosses display evidence of
carpentry techniques in their creation and adornment, attesting to this
tradition. High crosses have shafts supporting carved cross heads which may be
either free-armed or infilled with a 'wheel' or disc. They may be set within
dressed or rough stone bases called socles. The cross heads were frequently
small, the broad cross shaft being the main feature of the cross.
High crosses served a variety of functions, some being associated with
established churches and monasteries and playing a role in religious services,
some acting as cenotaphs or marking burial places, and others marking routes
or boundaries and acting as meeting places for local communities. Decoration
of high crosses divides into four main types: plant scrolls, plaiting and
interlace, birds and animals and, lastly, figural representation which is the
rarest category and often takes the form of religious iconography. The carved
ornamentation was often painted in a variety of colours though traces of these
pigments now survive only rarely. The earliest high crosses were created and
erected by the native population, probably under the direction of the Church,
but later examples were often commissioned by secular patrons and reflect the
art styles and mythology of Viking settlers.
Several distinct regional groupings and types of high cross have been
identified, some being the product of single schools of craftsmen. There are
fewer than 50 high crosses surviving in England and this is likely to
represent only a small proportion of those originally erected. Some were
defaced or destroyed during bouts of iconoclasm during the 16th and 17th
centuries. Others fell out of use and were taken down and reused in new
building works. They provide important insights into art traditions and
changing art styles during the early medieval period, into religious beliefs
during the same era and into the impact of the Scandinavian settlement of the
north of England. All well-preserved examples are identified as nationally
The cross in St Helen's churchyard, though not in its original location, is an extremely fine example; its carvings are very well-preserved and include an unusual figural carving in addition to the more common interlace. The form of the latter illustrates well Scandinavian influences on this type of decoration.
The monument includes the shaft of an Anglian high cross standing on a modern
base of mortared gritstone blocks rising to a truncated pyramid ringed by a
spiked wrought-iron barrier. Originally the shaft would have been surmounted
by a stone cross head but this is now missing. In its place is a capstone and
metal finial which, together with the base, date to the renewal of the cross
The cross shaft is c.2.5m high and of bevelled square section tapering from
c.50cm square at the base to c.25cm square at the top. It is divided into four
sections with each section being heavily decorated with various forms of
interlace. The bottom section is divided from the one above by two encircling
rings of flat band moulding while three rings divide the second section from
the third. Between the third and the uppermost sections is a flat collar
measuring c.10cm-15cm wide and set c.30cm-40cm below the top of the shaft.
This collar is also carved with interlace which is contiguous with the
decoration above. This contiguity indicates that the cross may have been
recarved within the Anglo-Scandinavian period and may, originally, have been
somewhat plainer. This is also suggested by the interlace in the bottom two
sections of the shaft which is continuous round the girth of the shaft but
appears to overlie formerly plain mouldings along its edges.
The third and longest section contains interlace on all but the south side of
the shaft on which there is a figural carving consisting of a full figure,
facing forward, wearing a knee-length garment and carrying what appears to be
a spear diagonally across the body. The figure is winged and has a halo, and
the fact that it is apparently armed indicates that it may represent one of
the four archangels. Its legs are flanked by what seems to be a pair of
bird-like creatures though this interpretation is uncertain. The decoration on
this section is divided by roll moulding into four swagged panels. These
mouldings are continued upward into the upper section which, again, is thus
divided into four.
The current base of the cross is c.2m high. This gives an overall height of
between 4.5m and 5m which is somewhat higher than the cross would have been
originally. The original height, including cross head, is likely to have been
c.3.5m. The cross has been moved on at least three occasions though probably
never far from its original churchyard location. Eighteenth century records
indicate that, up to 1760, it lay recumbent in the churchyard and that the
cross head was removed at about this time. In that year it was moved to the
junction of Church Street and Church Lane, immediately south east of the
churchyard. In c.1928, together with its 19th century base and cap, it was
moved to its present churchyard location overlooking Church Street. Round the
base of the cross is a paved surface which lies partially within the area of
the scheduling but is excluded from the scheduling though the ground
underneath is included. The cross is also Listed Grade I.
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Hill, Angela Shackleton, (1994)
This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
End of official listing